Christinia Gilmore, LPN, author at the Daily Nurse

For me, nursing is about making a difference — and every day, I make a difference in the lives of the people I care for. Take a Monday earlier this month. One of my patients living with cerebral palsy had difficulty completing her therapeutic exercises. Her mother, clearly frustrated, worried that her daughter was not making enough progress. Dedicated and caring, the mother also worried that she was not doing enough to help her daughter improve and succeed.

But this young woman has been improving – slowly, surely, in a way imperceptible to the untrained eye. “Your daughter can now open both of his hands; all of our hard work is clearly paying off,” I explained, as the mother’s face changed from desperate to hopeful. “Your daughter just wants to be independent,” I continued, “and she obviously gets that spirit from you.”

Independence – as well as making a difference – becomes a bigger goal for me in my career. The freedom to control my schedule. The freedom to control my income. The freedom to take care of my three children. The freedom to take care of myself.

Until recently, I didn’t really have that choice.

For too long nurses have been treated as an afterthought. We are exhausted and stressed – from Covid, from our home life, from feeling that our needs are always considered last. And it not only affects our ability to perform, it threatens the effectiveness of the entire health systems that we are so passionately committed to supporting. Yet the rigid working conditions and schedules haven’t changed with the world around us.

During my six year nursing career, I have witnessed both the indifference and abuse that has become all too common in our industry. As a result, our community is suffering. Less than half of the 12,000 nurses recently surveyed by the American Nurses Association (ANA), for example, believe their employers care about them – just 19% of nurses aged 35 and under. More than 50 percent of all nurses are also considering leaving nursing; a figure that rises to 63% for nurses under the age of 35. These last figures particularly worry me; with so many of my younger brothers and sisters ready to give up nursing – and a national the shortage of nurses is only expected to get worse – the future of the profession I love has never been so bleak.

I know what it’s like to be undervalued at work. Nursing agencies have told me to wait in the cold if my patients are late. Then, when they finally arrive, I’m expected to wash their clothes – even though I’m a nurse, not a cleaner. I was berated by patients for “moving too slowly” and struggled with administrators for adequate PPE safety equipment at the height of the pandemic. I was made to feel like a number – a body – by profit-driven nursing agencies disrespected by patients and family members who aggressively insist that I could just “do more”.

But more needs to be done to consider our needs, too – both by the nursing industry and the community of nurses to which we all belong. What we seek is to be seen, valued and supported in a way that matters. To listen to if we are having difficulty during a difficult shift. To hear “thank you” instead of being ignored. To give us tools and resources to take care of our mental health because after the last two years, we need it.

I experienced this kind of support unexpectedly when I found connectRN, a new platform that connects nurses with healthcare facilities that need our services. The ability to work when I want, where I want gave me the independence I was looking for and the opportunity to step away if I needed to recharge my batteries. As a mother, this flexibility is more important than ever. I can take shifts that suit my childcare needs, eliminating the stress that usually comes with earning money and being a mom. This should become an industry standard, rather than an advantage of a digital startup.

One of the things I appreciate the most about connectRN is that they are nurse first and care as much about our community as they do about the shifts they post. When I joined the platform, I got access to The Beat, a private community of nurses who also work with connectRN. It’s a safe space to discuss with your peers things that only nurses can truly understand – without fear of retaliation or reprisal. We share stories of tough shifts, support each other to keep going, and often find “work buddies” in places where we often work. As debates rage around the role nursing unions, hospitals and organizations need to understand that a united nursing community is a better nursing community – better equipped, better prepared and much better focused on the needs of our patients. With my life much more than just a nurse – the children (the two teenagers and a toddler), my extended family, some of my time – I feel lucky to be part of this community

For me personally, The Beat has proven to be particularly helpful in dealing with mental health issues. At the height of Covid, the community offered teletherapy sessions through a partnership to be used at our discretion. To be honest, I never thought I would need this kind of help – no one ever asked me. But the death of a colleague — a young mother who died shortly after giving birth — hit me harder than I had originally imagined. I needed help to process what I was feeling and took advantage of the offer. Having this support – for free – made me feel worthy and valued.

Over the past two years I have been struck by a newfound respect for nurses as the Covid crisis continues unabated. Patients and families recognize our role on the front lines of the pandemic and understand the risks taken every day to help their loved ones survive. What we need now is a parallel strengthening of understanding and appreciation for the hospitals and nursing agencies that fuel our profession. Because fairer pay, increased flexibility, reduced stress and personal care will not only improve the lives of nurses, they will help ensure the positive patient outcomes we all want. As nurses, we intuitively understand the need for these demands; it’s time for recruiting agencies and healthcare institutions to embrace this mindset with an equally open heart and mind.

Lola R. McClure